$1,450,000 – Death on High Seas

Award Amount: $1,450,000

Admiralty
Wrongful Death – Crushing By Seaboard Containers
Amount of settlement: $1.45 Million, plus waiver of lien
Injuries alleged: Death
Name of case: Hurley v. Massachusetts Port Authority
Court/case#: Suffolk Superior Court, No. 93-3007-D
Tried before judge or jury: Jury claimed
Judge: Charles T. Spurlock
Amount of settlement: $1.45 Million, plus waiver of lien
Highest offer: $1.45 Million, plus waiver of lien
Most helpful expert:Charles Cushing, marine engineer and naval architect, New York
Attorneys for plaintiff: Michael B. Latti, Kevin Donius, Latti Associates, Boston
Attorney for defendant: Withheld

The plaintiff’s decedent, 41, and the father of four minor children, was crushed to death between 40-foot seagoing containers (shipping containers designed to be stowed aboard a ship or placed in an over-the-road chassis to be towed by a truck) at the John F. Moran Container Terminal, which is owned and operated by Massachusetts Port Authority.

The decedent was in between rows of the containers during his employment as a longshore clerk when one of the containers was apparently struck by a flatbed trailer. It moved several feet and crushed the decedent against another container. The operator of the flatbed was never identified. The decedent was earning approximately $40,000 per year at the time of his death.

The plaintiff brought suit for wrongful death, seeking punitive damages and damages for conscious pain and suffering. He alleged that the Moran Terminal was negligently designed and laid out and that there was inadequate area for turning where the accident occurred. The plaintiff’s expert was prepared to testify that the improper design and layout of the terminal was the proximate cause of the accident. The plaintiff’s medical expert was prepared to testify that the decedent endured conscious pain and suffering for approximately four minutes prior to this death.

Massport argued that although it did not directly issue the decedent’s paychecks, the decedent’s paychecks were issued by Massport indirectly through a “pay agent”; that the decedent was its employee, and therefore his widow was barred from bringing suit against Massport.

The plaintiff argued that the “pay agent” was in fact the decedent’s employer, not Massport. The plaintiff defeated summary judgment on this issue, as well as a motion to bifurcate the trial of the employment issue from the trial of liability and damages. A special question regarding the employment issue was to be presented to the jury. If the decedent were to have been found an employee of Massport, the plaintiff’s suit would have been barred. Massport also argued that since the decedent’s widow was receiving compensation pursuant to the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, maritime law – which no longer recognizes claims for loss of consortium or punitive damages – applied in this case. The plaintiff successfully argued that Massachusetts law controlled.

On the day of trial, Massport and the LHWCA insurance company offered $1.45 million to settle the plaintiff’s claims, with the LHWCA insurer waiving its lien of nearly $100,000.

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